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Junk food ad ban: is it the answer?

2021-10-22 foodanddrinktechnology

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The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has issued a statement calling for a ban on junk food ads aired on television before the 9pm watershed in the UK. It follows a survey which revealed that 70 per cent of parents with children aged 16 and under have been pestered by their children to buy junk food they have seen advertised on TV, with 43 per cent saying they are badgered at least once a week.

Further, just under two fifths (39 per cent) of parents said they think junk food adverts on TV make it difficult to help their children eat a healthy diet.

With a third of children in the UK reported to be currently overweight or obese, the BHF believes that this survey highlights an urgent need to close legal loopholes in the UKs regulatory system, which mean companies are free to promote unhealthy food and drink products to children on TV during family friendly programmes.

You might wonder how much of an influence such a ban might have, given that children could still see their favourite treats advertised in print, online, on the radio and, of course, on supermarket shelves; however, research by broadcasting regulator Ofcom found television advertising can impact on childrens food preferences, consumption and behaviour, and that younger children in particular cannot distinguish advertising from entertainment.

Mike Hobday, director of policy at the BHF, says, “Regulations for TV and online advertising in the UK are weak. Loopholes in the system mean that every day millions of children are exposed to sophisticated marketing techniques specifically designed to lure them into unhealthy eating habits.

"This evidence shows that junk food ads are having a detrimental impact on childrens behaviour and are hindering parents efforts to get their children to eat healthily.

"We cannot allow companies to continue exploiting holes in the system at the expense of our childrens health. The government must act now to help give children a stronger chance at fending off future heart disease."

The BHF has not clarified what it is classing as junk food, and British marketing body Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) has been quick to question both what is considered junk food as well as the amount of fault being placed on advertisers by the BHF.

Ian Twinn, ISBAs director of public affairs, says, "This is the latest in a series of press releases from medics and campaigners. They address a serious issue about which most people agree; there is room for concern about childhood and adult obesity and levels of people being overweight. Sadly, the debate then breaks down for two simple reasons. First, campaigners seem convinced that foods can be called junk very few foods are. Secondly, the prescribed solutions, usually ad bans or exiling ads to late night, are placebos, which if taken seriously will not make people thin but have nasty side effects.

"Advertisers and others agree that for some people there are junk diets, which when combined with a lack of exercise adds to the problem. Brands have shown they are prepared to go above and beyond our strict rules to advertise responsibly with our childrens health in mind.

"The UK has one of the tightest ad regulation systems in the world. We achieve very high compliance rates. Our independent regulator ASA is an effective and objective means for anyone to complain about advertising. The CAP and broadcast rules, which the ASA enforces, are clear, open and kept up to date as evidence emerges.

"I make no apologies for repeating that there is no such thing as junk food, only junk diets, we need to continue educating children and parents on the issues of a healthy and responsible diet. The advertising industry is committed to this, but are the campaigners?"

As a non-parent I cannot place myself in or out of the 70 per cent of parents who claim to have been pestered by their children to buy junk food as a result of TV advertising. However, I dont think a pre-watershed ban is the answer – what about children who watch TV after 9pm? What about children who read magazines or newspapers, or see the supermarket brochures and takeaway leaflets delivered through the front door on a weekly basis? And then, as I mentioned, theres the Internet, radio and the weekly shop itself.

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